The Politics of Spiderman
By Wil Forbis
Heh, I can actually see how someone could read the above title and think they're getting some sort of intellectual article here, you know, some Camilla Pagliaesqe expose of the comic book movement, filled with nods to Greek mythology and obscure pop references. If that was your initial reaction, clearly you are quite unfamiliar with my work and will be rather disappointed. Intellectuality sneaks up on me only once in a great while and even then is quickly dispatched with a great blast of my patented "No-pretense Anti-Intellectuality Spray" (which, I might add, does a wonderful job on bathroom tiles.)
Actually, the whole concept for this piece came to me recently, when I had a rather grand realization: Though in real life we are usually fairly aware of the political direction of people we either know or see in the news media, in the world of film, television and comics, political beliefs seem to be a well hid truth. We never saw Magnum P.I. filling out a Democratic party membership, we'd have to guess at James Bond's views on the Clinton scandal. And ever notice when there is a politician shown on a television show, he always uses phrases like "My party" or "My opponent's beliefs" but never uses the terminology that real politicians use (i.e. "those animal fondling immoral Democrats" or "Those Jack booted, child starving Republicans") In reality, we always know exactly where people stand, but in the world of make believe, people seem to go to great lengths to avoid revealing their beliefs.
The reason of course, is that money hungry movie promoters or East Coast media manipulators have no desire to alienate one half of the American populace by giving their characters any kind of controversial belief system. Ironically this must pose a problem for the left wing Hollywood crowd whom, though disproportionately liberal, make a lot of money on "tough on crime" cop characters who undeniably are social conservatives. I mean is there any real doubt where Rambo would stand on the Brady Bill? How do you think the A-Team felt about the death penalty?
However, even though Hollywood has gone to great lengths to hide the political views of its characters, there is one medium where I believe you can read between the lines of its text to ascertain philosophical viewpoints. That medium is comic books, particularly the genre of superheroes. If anything, superheroes are living characterizations of vital cultural issues. Batman embodies an unapologetic "tough on Crime" stance. Captain America is a strong national defense. Wonder Woman is a bold feminist statement bordering on female superiority with a touch of male-fueled dominatrixism (What young lad hasn't had fantasies of Wonder Woman whipping him with her magic lasso telling him he's been a "very bad little boy." (Note: If you're still having these fantasies, let me know, I can recommend someone. She's clean and offers very reasonable rates.))
It's with all this in mind I decided to dissect the views of some more well known superheroes and lay waste to the political apathy that appears to rule to pages of comics. I think you'll see that instead of being the apolitical wasteland comic book authors would like you to believe, the world of comics is rife with conflicting belief systems, all part of its eternal good versus evil motif. The true battles of the American social consciousness occurs not in the Senate floor or articles of lofty magazines like The New Republic, but on the slightly yellowing but brightly colored pages of the American comic Book.
Example #1: The Incredible Hulk. "The Hulk?" you say. How could anyone with the child like intellect of strained peas, who can only form sentences like "Hulk sleepy now!" have any kind of political viewpoint? Pish, posh, it's precisely the Hulk's dull witted sensibility that makes him an accurate metaphor for the American voter. And on close inspection, one can find an strong anti-authoritarian stance in many of the Hulks statements, anything from "Hulk Smash," to "Hulk destroy", or "Hulk kill." Hulk clearly ascribes to the anarchistic belief of many left wing extremists of the sixties. (It's rumored the Hulk befriended the late Abbie Hoffman, while they were both living underground in the early seventies.) But the Hulk also focuses his destructive capacity specifically towards the military industrial complex with statements like "Green men (the military) always bother Hulk, Hulk smash green men." Clearly, the Hulk is a monster of Haight Ashbury, a jaded flower child turned angry by Kent State and the Nixon era.
Example #2: Batman. Batman, upon close inspection, would appear to be man of conflicting interest. On one hand he is clearly motivated by revenge, revenge upon criminals, with no time for talk of mitigating circumstances or the role of poverty in creating sin. But at the same time, in his Bruce Wayne personal, Batman gives charitably to social causes. Truthfully Bat-man embodies the average middle class Anglo-American whom is willing to be sympathetic to minority and disadvantaged peoples until they set fire to a grandmother or kill a little girl. Consequently, Batman is often assumed to be insane.
Example #3: Spiderman. Can you say "guilty white liberal?" While it's often said Batman is motivated by revenge, Spider-man is driven by guilt, primarily the guilt of not stopping the criminal who killed his Uncle Ben. Spiderman is the eternal underdog, the champion of the underclass, but never feeling vindicated in these acts, he continues banging his head against the wall in an insurmountable quest to eradicate crime. Often a criminal simply needs to relate a life of woe to Spider-man, distracting him long enough for said criminal to bash Spidey over the head with a pipe. As a result, Spiderman is forced to live a tragic existence of almost Shakespearian levels.
Example #4: Captain America. At first, Cap would seem like blind patriotism at its most finest, leading an army of tabacco chewing, flag waving, RV driving, "Love it or leave it" spewing traditionalists to march upon the White House lawn and shed a tear for the Unknown Soldier. But truthfully, his nationalistic furor has always been a little more complex than that. C.A. is, at heart, a FDR democrat, and his version of America embodies a Robin Hood democracy that is constantly extending it's arm to the little guy. However, because he is a traditionalist at heart (due to the fact that he's approaching eighty) it would be hard to predict his views on more modern issues such as abortion or homosexuality.
Example# 5: Superman. One of the earliest and most powerful superheroes, Superman is in some ways the most difficult to peg. He would certainly seem an all-American, borrowing old glory's red and blue for the colors of his uniform. But while, his Americanism would temp one to lable him a conservative, Superman has also had a side to him that championed the underclass. (Some comic historians have labled him "SuperJew" assuming that, though he comes from outer space, Superman inherits the race/religion of his creators, Jerry Seigal and Joe Shuster, both New York jews. An ironic twist on the fact that the title "Superman" comes from Nietches' German nationalism) To make things even more difficult, Superman seems to hide any political beliefs behind his drippy "citizen of the universe" facade. A pox of green kryptonite upon thee.
Example# 6: The Punisher: At first glance one would assume the Punisher to be a gun-toting, second ammedment preaching, Charleton Heston clone, but ironically he's often handed off to clearly left leaning writers who try and inject the character with some of their sensibilities. This leads to truly comical scenes where the Punisher will sympathize with the plight of a collection of Puerto Rican immigrants while blowing them away. Or the Punisher trying to counsel a troop of drug addicted street kids while blowing them away. Or the Punisher rescuing an group of middle aged housewives from an oncoming bus while blowing them away. You get the picture.
What it comes down to is that comic book characters are a lot like us - complex. Who can really describe themselves as conservative or liberal anymore? It really comes down to where you stand on any variety of issues. And perhaps by looking into the comic book world we can gain a clear picture of where we stand on such issues... as well as see a little bit of ourselves!
You can find more of Wil Forbis on: http://www.forbisthemighty.com
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